PORTAGE PARK — A cluster of Northwest Side auto dealerships is reeling from a drubbing of brazen car thefts from their lots, many committed in daylight during business hours, managers and public officials said.
Managers at three Portage Park dealerships in the 5300 block of West Irving Park Road have reported having cars driven off their lots since November, almost always by the same group of teens. In all, the thieves have made off with more than a dozen vehicles, the managers said.
The group of six to eight teens or young men repeatedly has been recorded climbing into cars waiting to be serviced, according to Billy Bobron, a manager at Marino Chrysler Jeep Dodge, 5133 W. Irving Park Road.
Although Marino hasn't had any cars stolen, employees there caught the thieves in the act twice in one day, he said.
"They brought a car in for service, and someone was hiding in the trunk who then jumped out and got into another car," Bobron said. "Then that night, after we closed, we caught them trying to snip the fence. We had to go chase them away."
Police told Bobron at least one of the thieves had been caught, but the group wasn't easily deterred because they were minors, he said.
"It's like they catch one of them, their parents come pick them up, and they're doing it all over again three hours later."
On Dec. 6, managers from several dealerships met with 38th Ward Ald. Nicholas Sposato, 45th Ward Ald. John Arena and Jefferson Park Police District Cmdr. Bill Looney, Arena said.
After the meeting, Looney vowed to increase patrols on the busy block.
The dealerships have hired private security companies, and police "made them aware of some of the things they can do" to prevent thefts, Sposato said.
The beefed-up police patrols have helped reassure Brent Hofer, manager of Enterprise Rent-a-car, 5358 W. Irving Park Road, which has had multiple cars stolen, he said.
"We've been seeing a lot more of them [police] around here," Hofer said. "I think we're about as safe as you can be right now, in a city."
But the thefts have taken a serious toll on Autobahn City Volkswagen, 5330 W. Irving Park Road, which has had four cars stolen in two incidents, a manager said. The dealership has had to change its policy and totally lock down the facility whenever a car is taken for a test drive, he said.
"It's putting a huge strain on our business. We have to use so many more resources just to be extremely cautious," said the manager, who declined to give his name. "All of our technicians are really on edge, looking over their shoulders, because they're worried these guys are coming."
The manager said he, too, was encouraged by the new attention paid by police. But he doesn't expect the problem to disappear.
"I would say I think this could be resolved, but the fact that they've been arrested and continue to do this shows that it's an organized assault on dealerships," he said. "I don't know if they think we're easy targets, or why they have the audacity to just walk in in broad daylight and rob us like this."
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